UAH science and engineering students to study gamma rays in thunderstorms

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- In an exciting collaboration, UAH students in both science and engineering programs are preparing to go "into the storm." 

L-R Fred Snopl, Jennifer Miller, Everett Cavanaugh, Kayla Capitan, Christopher Helmerich, Elena Pradhan. (Michael Mercier/UAH).

The High Energy Lightning Emission Network (HELEN) will measure intense bursts of gamma rays made in the atmosphere during thunderstorms. Until now, they say satellites have been the only way to study those bursts.

Sensors that took two years to develop will be launched by weather balloons eight to ten times over the next year. They hope to learn more about the gamma rays characteristics and its nuclear interaction. Scientists think intra-cloud and positive cloud-to-ground lightning are correlated with the rays.

"With this research, we also hope to understand if this poses a safety risk to pilots flying near a thunderstorm because terrestrial gamma-ray flashes produce large amounts of radiation," explained project lead, Christopher Helmerich.

Four sensor devices will be launched at the same time during the experiments. They say while other universities have been working on the technology -- this will be the *first* launch.

HELEN is funded through SHC, which includes in its sponsors the Alabama Space Grant Consortium (ASGC), the UAH College of Engineering, the UAH Department of Physics and Astronomy, the UAH College of Science, and the UAH Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

“We have had a total budget of $16,000 over two years,” says Helmerich.

Their findings will be published in a scientific journal for peer review.

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